Solomon Wassef envisions a casual, tropical-theme bar with Caribbean drinks, recorded island music and a covered patio seating 25 in the heart of downtown. His vision for a nightspot with a U-shaped, indoor tiki bar was endorsed today by the board of the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority.

Wassef already owns Lakeland Loft , an upscale cigar and jazz bar on the second floor of the building across from Munn Park at the southeast corner of Main Street and Tennessee Avenue. Island Breeze Tiki Bar would be downstairs in the spot that was occupied for many years by the RP Funding mortgage company and for the last year by the recently closed Dart World Gaming Arena.

Wassef plans to remove the wall fronting Main Street, creating a 25-foot patio with seating — similar but slightly larger than the entrance patios at Black & Brew Coffee House and Bistro next door and Linksters Tap Room three doors down on Main.

Wassef does not plan to serve food at Island Breeze, so the bar would not qualify for seating on the expanded Main Street sidewalk, as Black & Brew and Nineteen 61 have. The 4,000-square-foot first-floor space he plans to rent at 201 E. Main St. will accommodate under 200 customers, he said.

Wassef has been a downtown presence since 2004, when he opened Fresh Choice Plus, a buffet restaurant on Kentucky Avenue that closed following a fire in June 2008. After the fire, he opened Hookah Palace on Kentucky, which he still operates. Previously, he worked for 20 years for Darden Restaurants, where he trained managers of Red Lobster units.

Wassef hopes to open Island Breeze Tiki Bar this fall. First, he needs to obtain the conditional use permit from the city of Lakeland required for any downtown bar. The City Commission is expected to vote on the permit in April.

Part of the process is a review of police calls to Wassef’s current businesses.

“On a scale with other downtown bars, Lakeland Loft has a relatively low number of calls for service. Hookah Palace fell in the median range for call for service,” LDDA Executive Director Julie Townsend wrote in a memo to the board.

She also talked with owners and managers of businesses near both bars, “asking specifically about any negative externalities. Overall, the comments from neighbors were positive. There were some concerns about some of the behaviors of patrons exiting Hookah Palace over the years.”

In recommending approval of Island Breeze’s conditional use permit, Townsend noted Wassef’s track record with downtown businesses and noted, “The establishment supports the goals of Downtown Redevelopment Plan, specifically the goal of increased activity and the desire for a mix of restaurants, bars and nightlife.”

The motion to support Wassef’s application for a special use permit passed unanimously. Eric “Bro” Belvin, managing partner of the neighboring Linksters Tap Room, made the motion “based on Solomon’s performance in downtown and based on the staff recommendation.”

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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